NETS DROP DENVER
Rally from 29 down falls short
brooklyn, n.y. » With 13.8 seconds left, the Nuggets were staring at a chance to tie the game — if they could just inbound the ball.
But Jameer Nelson’s pass intended for Jamal Murray sailed high and out of bounds. Brooklyn inbounded their pass cleanly on the ensuing possession, got fouled and made two free throws to push the lead to five with 12.7 seconds to go.
It was enough to eventually get out with a 116-111 victory Wednesday night at the Barclays Center. But there was nothing normal about how those two teams got to that point.
The Nets nearly lost a 29-point lead. No players in the Nuggets locker room could remember rallying from that kind of deficit on any level in their basketball lives even to “almost” win. There were more than a few people in attendance at the arena that thought they would complete an improbable comeback. Futility knows no bounds when the Nets are involved. They nearly had their most heinous chapter yet. But the Nets survived. All the Nuggets were left holding was a lot of what-ifs and had-we-dones.
“The lesson must be learned,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Too many times this year, we build ourselves these huge deficits and expend so much energy getting back in the game that we have nothing left to win the game.”
Malone had a unique seat from which he watched the majority of the second half — the locker room. He argued vehemently for a traveling call with 7:43 in the third. All he got was a personal foul call on point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. The combination of disappointment in how his team was playing to that point and in the noncall sent him over the top. Two technical fouls later, he was headed to the locker room.
“Let’s be honest, I was just really frustrated with how we were playing,” Malone said. “All those referees — Jacyn (Goble), Derrick (Stafford), Brian (Forte), they have a very tough job, they do a great job. I was just trying to fight for my guys. … Hoping by getting thrown out our guys would show some fight, give them a spark.” It did. But things got worse first. Malone left with his team down 21. With 5:56 to play in the third quarter, the Nuggets were down 29, 92-63. Then things changed.
“We was getting embarrassed,” forward Wilson Chandler said. “When your back is against the wall you’ve got to do something. At the time we had nothing to lose.”
So the Nuggets started putting up numerous shots. And many started to fall. The Nuggets went on a 36-11 run from 5:56 in the third to 4:25 in the fourth when Kenneth Faried’s hook shot fell. The Nets were suddenly the team making the mistakes, and the Nuggets climbed back into things. When Chandler hit a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, the Nuggets, who never led in the game, were down just two (111-109). But Brooklyn scored five of the game’s last seven points to escape.
“We took a punch, two punches, maybe five punches and we got off the floor and finished it out,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said.
Because the Nets did, it forced the Nuggets to swallow 17 more turnovers converted into 27 points. The Nets had 61 percent of their first-half points (42-of-68) come in the paint. The Nuggets allowed 22 fast-break points. Those are the things that sting. Those overshadowed huge games from Chandler (27 points, 15 rebounds) and Nikola Jokic (14 points, 11 rebounds).
“As NBA players and coaches, we’re not performers, we’re competitors,” Malone said. “There’s a big difference. I don’t want to see guys perform. I want to see guys compete. We have a lot of performers out there right now. Forget that, I don’t care if you make a mistake, miss a shot — compete. That is the essence of what being a Denver Nugget has to be moving forward.”
The Nuggets’ Jameer Nelson scores against the Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Wednesday.